Degenerative disc disease refers to a condition of spinal degeneration that becomes more common with increasing age. Disc degeneration is a common source of back pain among middle-aged and older adults and affects more than 3 million people in the U.S. each year. Fortunately, our minimally invasive treatment approaches can improve painful symptoms and restore a full range of motion.
For maximum mobility, the spine must maintain strength while permitting some flexibility. As a result, there are soft, compressible discs between the 33 vertebrae that make up the spine to prevent bones from grinding together. These spinal discs behave like shock absorbers and are made of a tough, cartilage-like exterior with a softer, gel-like interior. During aging, spinal discs lose water and become stiffer, thinner and more brittle. Tiny cracks or damage to the tough disc exterior may cause the gel-like interior to bulge or rupture, which can lead to a variety of conditions.
Common conditions accompanied by disc degeneration include a bulging disc, a herniated disc, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) or osteoarthritis. These conditions put additional pressure on nerves, which leads to serious, chronic pain in the back, neck, legs and arms. Disc degeneration occurs most commonly in the cervical vertebrae located in the neck region or the lumbar vertebrae in the lower back. Pain from disc degeneration can vary widely from person to person, as some experience excruciating pain while others experience only mild pain with few symptoms.
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While degenerative disc disease mostly affects the lumbar spinal area (lower back) and the cervical spine area (neck region), it can also affect any part of the spine. You will experience pain depending on what part of the spine is affected. For instance, if you experience pain in your lower back, you may have a damaged disc at that site.
Other times, the pain may radiate to other parts of your body. There are nerves that come from the spine to other regions of the body. So, if the damaged disc is creating pressure on a nerve that is branching to your legs, you may feel pain in your legs as well. The nerves will send the message of pain, which is known as radiculopathy in medical terms.
Usually, people with degenerative disc disease symptoms will experience severe back and neck pain. Other times, this pain might get worse. The main symptom to look out for is pain. So, you should focus on the pain and whether it gets better or worse. People with degenerative disc disease usually have the following patterns:
If you suspect you may have disc degeneration disease, you should see a doctor right away. Here are some warning signs that require immediate medical help:
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Initial treatment of degenerative disc disease often includes a conservative approach to manage pain and strengthen the back. Pain medication, physical therapy and lifestyle changes, such as increasing movement throughout the day or gentle stretching exercises, may be sufficient to ease symptoms.
When conservative approaches are not enough to manage pain, surgery for degenerative disc disease is a viable treatment approach. Artificial disc replacement — a minimally invasive, two-hour outpatient procedure — is one of the best choices and most common procedures performed based on conditions resulting from degenerative disc disease.
Dr. Katzman, lead surgeon at NJ Spine & Orthopedic, has successfully performed over 250 artificial disc replacements and is dedicated to developing advanced methods to provide minimally invasive solutions for degenerative spine issues.
His team of spine experts at NJSO perform most procedures on an outpatient basis using minimally invasive techniques.
Are you experiencing chronic back pain from degenerative disc disease or an accompanying condition? You don’t have to go through life tolerating your pain any longer — try our Candidacy Verification tool and find out if you qualify for one of our minimally invasive surgical options.
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